Monday, November 9, 2015


I mentioned a couple weeks back that the borders of my current quilt feature several different vignettes and that each one represents a stage in the evolutionary history of our planet.  It was quite fun to read up on the evolution of life, particularly in the precambrian era since I knew little about it compared to later eras.  Obviously "evolution of life" is a pretty big topic to break up into a few pictures, so I just picked things that jumped out at me and put them in chronological order.  Each one will have quite a bit of additional detail added with stitching once I'm into the quilting phase, so for now some of them are kind of blank.

I started with "primordial ooze"- not much to see here. The first organic molecules, polymerization of them into proteins and RNA, and then eventual compartmentalization into the first organisms will be added with quilting.

The next panel shows an undersea hydothermal vent.  Hydrothermal vents are one of the few places where extremophiles still live- organisms that don't require oxygen or light for metabolism and life.  There are some quite technical definitions for chemoautotrophs but the main idea is that they make organic molecules from carbon dioxide and utilize inorganic energy sources like hydrogen sulfide or ammonia.

Then follows the great oxygenation event, and the rise of cyanobacteria.  This panel depicts stromatolites (a type of cyanobacteria) which are still currently found in a few isolated places.  This period was especially critical since prior to the development of photosynthesis and the ability of photosynthesizing organisms to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, there was virtually no oxygen in earth's atmosphere.  To me, this is really really nifty- the idea that all the oxygen that we take for granted and that supports most life as we know it was spewed forth by billions of tiny bacteria over billions of years.

The great oxygenation event (among other things) paved the way for the Cambrian explosion which is marked by the proliferation of vast diversity among organisms.  This panel shows several, including a trilobite (I feel like they're sort of the poster children for this era), an opabinia, a hallucigenia, and a couple other things I don't actually know the names of.  This image is the bottom right hand corner and marks the turning point into what I'd think of as more "normal" life forms.

Next up is a Eurypterid, a type of large under sea scorpion.  Eurypterids were key predators and though some species were in the 15 inch range, others grew up to 6-8 feet.  They thrived for a long (long) time from the Ordovician through the Permian eras.  He's swimming along with a jawless primitive fish from the Silurian period (which is partway through the reign of the eurypterids).

During the Silurian, the first terrestrial life appeared, and ferns first appeared during the Devonian period (right after the Silurian).  The fern is accompanied by an early terrestrial arachnid from the order Trigonotarbida.  Although they were small, they did feed off other arthropods, and after the giant under sea scorpion, I was ready for something that would eat bugs....

Here's where I'll leave it for today, and more animals will come along later this week!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Peace Be With You: Bloggers Quilt Festival

It's time once again for the fabulous Blogger's Quilt Festival. It's always a great opportunity to find new quilty bloggers and see everyone's lovely work.  Many thanks to Amy for hosting it!

Peace Be With you is my entry in the Art Quilt category, and you should click through to see all the other great entries.

I worked on this quilt for most of the spring and summer, but was unable to show final pictures of it because I entered it into a special exhibit called "Festival Gallery of Quilt Art: Just Sayin" at the International Quilt Festival in Houston and they had a rule about not showing the final quilt before the show opened.  Well now it's opened, so I can finally share it!!  For anyone who's able to actually go to the show, you can see it there in person.

Peace Be With You, 48" x 50", c. 2015 Shannon M. Conley

This piece is another one in my series of liturgical quilts, many of which are stylistically linked to illuminated manuscripts or texts.  The composition of this one was inspired by a really glorious piece of Arabic calligraphy.

It started with four tiles I designed earlier in the spring while at a workshop with Jenny Bowker. Once I settled on a composition for the whole piece, I made two more partial tiles to fill in the gaps.

Designing the text to fit in the circular piece was fun.  It's a bit hard to see at first glance, but there are two interlocking rings of text.  The outside of the circle reads "Peace be with you" while nestled along the inside is the response "And also with you".  This is the greeting parishioners exchange with their neighbors during an Episcopal worship service.  The letters are all cut from different synthetic gold fabrics and then appliqued down using a tiny zig zag.  While quilting, I then couched down the Ricky Tims Razzle Dazzle thread to give a little more definition.

One of my favorite parts is the border around the circular/tile parts.  I foundation pieced it using all my shiny gold fabrics and between the foundation (a leave in stabilizer) and the seam allowances under the piecing, it really puffs up nicely.

The background fabric is some sort of slightly stretchy heavyweight polyester apparel fabric, and up close it has a really nice sheen.  Unfortunately, the stretch made it a bit difficult to work with while squaring up/quilting.  The quilting was done free motion, but I did mark some of the patterns first, especially those along the very outer border an in the bottom.  In order to echo the dragons hiding in the tiles, I quilted a dragon in the bottom part.

Though I struggled a lot with this piece (from a practical-accomplishing-it) standpoint, I'm pleased with how it turned out, and I hope the message can serve as a reminder, to me at least, to reach out with kindness to those around me.  I feel like society at large is becoming increasingly polarized, and that my life in particular has been filled with stress and conflict, so that a little patience and peace might serve me well.

Thanks again to Amy for hosting the Bloggers Quilt Festival, and make sure to click through to see the other entries!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ring Around the Ranch: Bloggers Quilt Festival

It's time once again for the Blogger's Quilt Festival!  Many thanks to Amy for doing such a great job hosting it!  You should definitely check out all the other entries.

This is my entry in the original design category.  It was a commission from a couple in Texas who saw my previous mammal mandala quilt at a show in New Mexico.  They loved all the circling animals, that had animals that were meaningful to them.  The center features the brand for their ranch, and the quilt is called "Ring Around the Ranch."  They love it, so I consider it a job well done.  

After the central ranch logo comes a ring of cardinals, one of squirrels and rabbits, then one with deer, horses, and longhorns.  The deer/horses/cattle interlock with rings of chocolate labs and armadillos, and then each corner is finished with a different bird:  the red-tailed hawk, a blue heron, an owl, and a crested caracara.  Finally, the border is flanked with catfish.

One feature I really like is the secondary patterns in the quilting.  You can see them a little bit in the overall picture, but also in some of the detail shots.  Th large nine-pointed star and nonagon in the center (around the robins), and the large arcs that frame each corner.

Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Here are a few detailed shots of the large corner birds.  I had a good time with these birds.  They're one of my favorite parts of the piece.  I think I like the crested caracara (bottom turquoise one) best, but the owls are a close second.   I accidentally melted a couple holes in the solid white background piece, which was a total nightmare, but I was able to patch them with the bo-nash powder and quilt over them.  In the end  you really can't see them at all.  They're right above and below the beak on the left heron.

All the animals have beaded eye or face details.  On some of the larger animals it's more than one bead (to give some shape) although they're quite hard to see in the photos.  My mom said the stray green threads kept catching her eye but when she'd reach up to pluck them off, she'd realize they were catfish whiskers....

Blue Heron Detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Red-tailed hawk detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Crested Caracara detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Great Horned Owl detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Here are a few shots of the areas with most of the overlays.

Detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

 And finally, a couple of pictures of the center.  The logo in the middle is their ranch sign/brand.

Detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Detail, Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

And here's a picture they sent me of the quilt hanging in their home.  I love the way it looks on the rock wall, and the warm colors in those two brown birds go very well with the bench!
Ring Around the Ranch, 2014, 57" x 57" c. Shannon Conley

Many thanks to the Kanetzky's for supporting my work, and to Amy for hosting the Blogger's Quilt Festival!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Progress on Eucharistic Prayer C Quilt

Things have been a bit challenging lately and I've been feeling simultaneously unmotivated and quite busy, which has contributed to a lag in creative accomplishments, but I have been making progress on my next big quilt.

It's not really "next" since I started it back at the beginning of the year and then set it aside for the spring and summer, but I'm back working on it now.  The middle sections feature the text from one of the Eucharistic prayers in the Episcopal prayer book (prayer c for anyone who's interested) and is really an exploration of the intersection of science and religion.  It's another one of my illuminated-manuscript style quilts, with several historiated initials and large borders filled with vignettes.

Each of the initials is about 6" square and features a famous scientist surrounded by things indicative of their field, but in somewhat medieval garb to keep with the illuminated style.  I'm terrible at faces, but I hope the suggestion is good enough.  These have lots of layers and I wasn't sure how easily I'd be able to quilt them, so a lot of the stitching has already been added.  More will come later hopefully. The edges are currently floppy since the aren't stitched down to anything-  I need to get them attached to the quilt soon or I think the little letter curlicues are going to be permanently messed up.

Here's Galileo in an A

Here's Louis Pasteur in an H

Here's Marie Curie in an L

and Barbara McClintock in an A

I actually made these before my break this spring and they've been patiently waiting their turn to come out of the WIP drawer.  Lately I've been working on the border vignettes and I'll share some of them next week.

Linking up with Nina-Marie and hoping you're having a creative week!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Topography finished!

I finished the hand stitching on my new piece with all the layers.  Last week I showed the mountain cut-out bits stitched to the yellow, and after I finished those, I started working on the canyon or frame bits.  As you can see in the second picture, I again started with a machine quilted sandwich (backing/batting/front) with holes cut out of it in some places.

I then started to line up my frame layers.  It was a bit tricky to line up the base ones because the sandwich had shrunk a bit with the quilting and the holes had been cut out to align with the other layers without any shrinking, but I was able to get it lined up well enough.  For the mountain panel, I stitched each one (that is each mountain and each layer down separately), but for the frames, it was trickier.  In the first place, they needed to be secured down in at least 20 different spots.  But I couldn't just sew one spot and then another because much like tightening down one screw all the way before starting the others, that just pulled all the layers out of whack.  So I did all but the top layer at once, and stitched half the spots at the same time.

I put my base quilt on a flat portable design board (a ceiling tile covered in flannel) and layered all the frames except the top one in the correct position.  Then I threaded about 10-15 needles and starting from spots in the middle I inserted the little pieces of peltex between each layer (to give it depth).  Then I jabbed a needle through all the layers into the design board.  I repeated this for the other needles until I had needles jabbed through all the layers and distributed fairly evenly across the quilt.  I had to do multiple needles at once because with only one or two needles, every time I moved the piece (for example to get underneath to pull the needle through) all the layers shifted.  After jabbing the 10-15 needles in, the layers were pretty well anchored.  I was able to flip the whole thing over and pull through all the needles to the back.  I stitched through a couple of times using this approach.  I did a second set of needles/stitches after the first set since there were still more spots that needed to be anchored.  There's only peltex where there are stitches, so between the anchoring sites the fabric undulates and floats.  I sewed on the top layer last to hide the knots from the original anchoring stitches.  I used two stitches forming a cross shape, and these stitches varied widely in size from one anchor point to another.  It was startling how hard it was to make precise stitches through all those layers.

Of course the whole thing was so thick and stiff that I broke many many needles and had to use my clamps and thimbles to get the needles through, but I got it finished.   All the little purple knots in the picture above are the first round of anchor points and you can see several threads going for the second round of anchor points.

And here it is after I'd stitched on the top layer.

The next step was to finish the edges of the two panels, so I trimmed them down and faced them along the shape of the frame.  This went fine, but the more I looked at the panels together, the more it felt like the yellow base on the bottom mountain piece was overwhelming.  It drew the eye and distracted from the depth.  So I carefully removed the facing strips (they were made with scraps of the yellow painted fabric and I didn't have very much of it), cut down the panel, and re-faced.

Unfortunately, I think I cut it down too much, and now the yellow base panel looked even weirder to me.  I tried all different ways and orientations I could think of to arrange these two panels in a way that didn't feel forced, but had no luck.  I even experimented in photoshop with the idea of cutting the yellow panel in half and displaying it on either side of the other one, but nothing looked right.  In retrospect, maybe I should have considered painting the yellow base a different color rather than cutting it down, but oh well, live and learn.

After much uncertainty and frustration (since I really had wanted this piece to have both the innies- and the outies-) I decided to chalk the mountain piece up to a learning experience and let the frame piece stand on its own. 

Mike took some final pictures for me and I was able to enter it in the show I was hoping for.  I doubt it will get in, but you never know unless you try!

Topography, c. 2015 Shannon Conley, 12 x 18 x 1.5

It's really quite small, only about 12 x 18.  The current artist statement reads "The flexibility of cloth and stitch lends itself well to creating motion and texture, and I'm interested in how the processes of layering and then taking away can create dimension and shape. Layer after layer is peeled away to expose what's underneath: organic openings that shift in shape, color, and depth. My art quilts begin with hand painted cloth and a machine quilted base, and then are layered and/or cut away, and anchored with hand stitching."

I definitely learned a bunch working through this process and already have some ideas for how to change it for the next time around.  I hope you've all had a creative week!  

I'm linking up with Nina Marie as always!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Starting a new project: Topography

I've been thinking for a while about the idea of depth and dimension in quilting.  At their most basic, quilts have depth from the multiple layers (front and back), from the batting, and from the texture given by quilting stitches.  In addition, I've been incorporating the idea of "taking away" or cutwork as another way to increase dimension in a lot of my recent pieces.  I'd been wondering if the opposite could also work-  that is, adding additional layers to increase dimension and depth.

Inspired by the 3D renderings and micrographs of viruses and bacteriophages (like these) and the concentric ring type design of a topo map, I built a multi-layered file in illustrator in which each layer could serve as a cutting template for my silhouette.

Because each layer would have cutouts, it was important for me to use some sort of non-fraying fabric.  Normally I would just seal fraying edges with my woodburner, but I really wanted this to have exact and precise edges so that each layer would line up, so a non-woven fabric was essential.  I also wanted something I could get fairly cheaply.  After looking around for a while, I settled on a non-woven from my local awesome upholstery supply store.  The owner called it remay, but it doesn't have quite the same consistency as other fabrics I've seen called that.  It's basically the stuff used to cover the bottoms of upholstered chairs or the tops of box springs.  I got ten yards of it in white, and then painted it.

I used the latex paint left over from this project so the dark grey-blue-purple color scheme may feel familiar.  I also decided to include a pop of yellow and used up some old acrylic pain I inherited from my grandmother.  I painted each piece of the remay, and set them to dry on some recycled plastic.  I mostly just didn't want to waste the plastic, but leftover stuff on the plastic from previous projects gave some of my pieces fun and unexpected texture!

There were ten layers in my file and my goal was to make two panels, one with cutouts piled up like mountains, and one with the frames from the cutouts piled up to make canyons.  I started by cutting out each layer and keeping both the frame and the insert pieces.  Here you can see a few of the different frames with the holes being different sizes in each layer.

After cutting all the pieces out, I had to decide how to stack them up.  I started by quilting a base for each panel using extra painted pieces and then started laying out my cutouts.  I started with the "mountain" piece.  I wanted to have a lot of depth in the piece, and when I just piled up all the pieces, they still looked pretty flat, so I decided to put a small piece of heavy duty peltex between each layer.  I had to stitch them all by hand since the layers quickly got way too fat to fit under my sewing machine.  It was quite a challenge to figure out how to keep the pieces straight and lined up correctly.  Even more challenging was physically stitching through everything.  Stitching through a quilt sandwich is fairly easy.  Stitching through a quilt sandwich plus a layer of fabric and a layer of peltex is also fairly easy, but by the time I had ten layers of peltex and ten additional layers of fabric, I could barely get the needle through.  It was definitely a project for multiple thimbles and many many broken needles.

In the bottom picture you can see many of the "mountains" only have a few of their layers stitched down.  Each layer had to be stitched down separately because the top layers are so small that if I'd just stitched through the center (to get all the layers at once) the bigger bottom layers would shift around too much and not stay in the right place.

I got them all finished (yay mountains!), and now I'm working on stitching the other panel, the "canyons" which is a whole different kettle of fish with it's own set of challenges.  I'm trying to finish this for an entry due very very soon, so hopefully I'll have another update next week.

When you look up close you can see the texture in the fabric- it's almost like paper towels, but it feels much sturdier, not like paper at all.  In person it's kind of fun to look at since not all the "mountains" have the same number of layers, so some are shorter than others.   It's been fun working on this and definitely a learning experience!!

Linking up as always with Nina-Marie.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

More technical details

After my last post about the Two Blind Mice quilt, Gwyned asked me if I'd share a few more technical details.  After writing a long e-mail to her, I thought maybe some others would be interested so decided to share another post.  She specifically asked about my process for the cutouts, binding, and hanging on this one, so here goes.

For these pieces where I have cutouts, I use synthetic fabrics for the front and back and synthetic (polyester) batting.  Next I outline the area to be cut out with cotton thread before quilting the rest of it.  Usually I quilt the whole sandwich, but in this case where I was cutting away most of it (i.e. the cutouts were as big or bigger than what was left behind) I just quilted inside my cotton outlines.  Then I cut away the area near but not quite touching the cotton outline threads (through all three layers).  This time since the pieces were big I cut away using scissors, but in the past when the cutouts have been smaller and fiddly I've used an exacto knife. 

Then I use a woodburning tool to go along all the raw edges.  The synthetic fabric and batting melt back to the cotton thread (which won't melt) leaving a sealed edge behind.  This approach works pretty well for organic shapes, but not quite so well if you want precise geometric shapes or very straight lines (I guess for that a facing would give a crisper edge but I've never faced my cutouts).  Just be careful to have lots of ventilation since the fumes from the melting polyester aren't healthy.


For this one where the cutout section was then cut in two and then bound, I carefully flattened out the large cut out piece and trimmed it to the right size.  Getting the binding stitched on was a pain, but I just laid out the binding strip and put a tiny dot of water soluble glue on each of the floppy arms that was sticking out.  Just to be double sure they didn't move (I was really worried that the arms would shift while I was sewing the binding strip on and then everything would pull funny), I put a tiny binder clip holding the binding at each place where there was an arm.  I tried pins, but everything was way to thick and small to pin precisely.  I then sewed the binding on by machine to the front (just like a normal binding).  The only difference was that I did it in strips, that is I did all the long edges as individual strips and then did the cross pieces (see in picture below).  This means there are no mitered binding corners, but I just tried to make the corners neat looking with no raw edges. I then flipped the binding strips around just like normal and hand stitched them down.  That part wasn't hard, but I tried to be careful and make nice stitches (since they are visible in those open cutouts) and make sure that the raw edges of the binding were tucked inside in those open areas.  The raw edges kept flipping out without a quilt edge to fold against.

To hang it, I put small straight sections of wire clothes hanger inside the binding across the top edges where the corners were inclined to flop, and then stitched a normal pocket across that center section.  It'll now hang from a "regular" slat in the pocket, albeit one that's only the width of the center section rather than the whole quilt, and the corners won't droop because of the bits of wire in there.  

Hope this is helpful to anyone thinking about trying cutouts!  Always feel free to ask if you have any questions, I'm happy to share my trial and error process!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Two Blind Mice and a Wild-Type- Finished!

On Wednesday I shared my progress on this piece and I'm pleased to say that with application and lots of hand stitching, I've gotten it finished.  Many thanks to Mike for taking the final pictures.  I'd left off with having to figure out how to widen the piece to the final desired size, and I decided to go with some cutwork panels since that's worked for me before (in my little fish quilt and my big tree quilt).  To echo the vasculature in the panels, I traced the main blood vessels from each picture onto a piece of metallic beige polyester.  I know that sounds gross, but in person it's nice and shiny without being in-your-face-gold. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures until I'd quilted it (polyester batting and backing), cut it out and fused the edges with my wood burner, but you can see it pinned up to the left of the panels just below.

I decided I wanted the panels to be on both sides, so I carefully cut it into two pieces, trimmed it to size, and then bound around all the edges.  In the picture below I was applying the final binding to the top and bottom.  

Because in lots of places where it was cut out the binding just wrapped back around on itself, I had to be very precise with the binding, something I'm not usually very good at.  I also went ahead and added interfacing to the binding because it was the same slippery polyester I used for the cutwork pieces and I knew it would be a pain to work with.  

The final challenge was figuring out how not to have the corners sag.  Usually the hanging pocket stretches across the whole back, but in this case that wasn't feasible since the sides were open.  And since the only thing holding up those two side panels is a tiny strip of binding, the corners/sides flopped terribly.  I finally resolved it by embedding the top binding with a ~6" piece of wire coat hanger on each side.  You can't see it at all since it's completely under the binding, but it bridges that floppy section and stabilizes the top.

Two Blind Mice and a Wild-Type, 2015, 20 x 30 c. Shannon Conley

I'm so excited with how this turned out-  it was really the perfect antidote to the months of trudging that I did on my other recent finish.  

The statement for the quilt reads:  Knockout and knockin mice are genetically engineered to carry mutations in their genome to model debilitating diseases, critical since it is difficult to study many diseases in human patients. The scientific and medical advancements that have resulted from use of these models cannot be overstated. This quilt re-interprets my fluorescein angiograms--pictures of the blood vessels in the eye--from mice with diabetic retinopathy (top) and macular dystrophy (bottom), as well as their normal or wild-type counterpart (middle). We use these specialized mice to study the pathobiological mechanisms associated with these blinding retinal degenerations and to develop and test novel treatments.

The Healing Quilts show is opening this fall sometime at a church in Albuquerque (I'll share more details when I have them), but thanks to the tireless efforts of our SAQA regional exhibition coordinator, I think it's going to travel as well.  Most excitingly, a subset of the show (20 quilts) will get to travel to the NIH to hang there!  So cool!

I'm linking up with Nina-Marie as always and also and Richard and Tanya.